3 Startups Vying to Become the 'Uber for Beauty'

It's really rough doing this kind of research.
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Eliza Brooke
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It's really rough doing this kind of research.
Booking on Priv. Photo: Nina Frazier-Hansen

Booking on Priv. Photo: Nina Frazier-Hansen

In early August, Gilt's Alexandra Wilkis Wilson made headlines when she announced her decision to leave the company she had co-founded to take over the role of CEO at a young startup called Glamsquad, a service for booking beauty appointments on the go. Wilkis Wilson isn't the only one to throw her weight behind the "Uber for beauty" concept: A number of variations on the theme have been popping up in New York recently, all hoping to appeal to the busy, working woman who wants a better way to fit salon services into her day.

Because we care deeply about market research, we decided to test out three of the on-demand beauty services available now. Here's what we found.

Glamsquad

Services offered: Hair and makeup. Glamsquad offers nine specific hairstyles (old Hollywood curls, beach waves, etc.) and six makeup looks; although you could undoubtedly go off book, having a menu means that you can book any stylist and be assured that you'll get a look you're comfortable with. 

Pricing: $50 for a blowout, $75 for a blowout and braid. $75 for makeup.

How it went down: Users can book appointments via Glamsquad's app or on desktop. I opted for the latter because I was feeling lazy about typing in my credit card info on my phone, a choice I immediately regretted when I realized that the app lets you book in real time. BUT my appointment was confirmed by email in under an hour, so all was well. Beachy waves ahoy.

The stylist showed up right on time and was super cool about the fact that my apartment was a mess and that the smoke alarm went off thanks to the combination of hot tools plus hairspray. The whole process took maybe 30 minutes. I felt super self-congratulatory about the efficiency of the thing — one minute I was tooling around on the Internet, and half an hour later I was back to messing around on Twitter... looking awesome. Imagine the possibilities for someone who actually has a busy schedule or, say, children.

Pros: Really nice stylist. The app looks great and, when I did get around to testing it, works well. Plus, Glamsquad uses Oribe products. Nice touch.

Cons: My waves fell in about half an hour. My hair struggles to hold a curl anyway, but there are some magicians out there who can make it happen. Also, when booking on desktop, you submit a time range that you're available, rather than selecting specific appointment times — but you can do that on the app. (So the moral of the story is, use the app.)

CityMani

Services offered: [Old timey carnival announcer voice] We've got your individual appointments, your multiple manicures, your party polish, your manis for minis, your manibar party packages, your manisforcures fundraisers, your mommy & me's and youuuuuurrr mani mixers!

What we're saying is, CityMani offers manicures for up to large groups of people. No gels yet, no shellacs, and if you do have one of those, you have to remove the polish before your appointment since they don't have the tools to remove it. Also no pedicures.

Pricing: $34 for an individual manicure.

How it went down: Of the three services I tested, I most enjoyed booking on CityMani's site. That's because you get to see every available appointment, which is nice for control freaks. The only downside is that the startup doesn't have an app yet, which is not so nice for techno geeks (hi). 

I scheduled my manicure for 9 a.m. in the Fashionista offices, like the busy working woman that I am. This is how seamless the whole thing was: Nail technician arrives early, we exchange pleasantries, I clear a stack of books off my desk and pull up an extra chair, finish an article I had been working on while she set up at the corner of my desk, swivel and boom — manicure time. The best (worst?) part is, I got to watch my inbox fill up as we were discussing the evils of cuticle cutting, so HAD there been a work emergency to attend to, I could have done so. 

Pros: I really enjoyed talking with my manicurist. She also did a kickass job making my chosen color, Essie's greyish-pink "Urban Jungle," go on evenly despite it being a very streaky formula. As with getting my hair done, the manicure was a productive little blip in my workday. You could spend the same amount of time at your desk searching for GIFs of Benedict Cumberbatch. I've never done that.

Cons: None with my experience. The manicurist came with a fairly limited range of colors, so if you're especially picky, it might be best to have a few of your favorites on hand just in case. Also, no pedicures or gels.

Priv

Services offered: So many. You can get a haircut, blowout, manicure, pedicure, makeup, massage and even order a one-on-one fitness class. Within each category there are a lot of options, including everything from gelicures and airbrush tans to a dance cardio workout. 

Pricing: A standard manicure is $35, while a combined mani/pedi is $70. Makeup application is $60 and the aforementioned dance cardio workout $80.

How it went down: Let's get this out of the way — the app's design is not awesome. The menu crowds the screen, making it very easy to accidentally hit the wrong button and then have to start all over again. I did that a lot. But when I did finally manage to do everything right, I liked that I could chat with my assigned manicurist in an in-app messaging system. (She was like, "See you soon," and I was like, "Looking forward.") 

More than the other services, Priv is made for on-the-go decisions. If you want a manicure in an hour, the app will see which of its stylists are in the area and available. I booked a pedicure in the morning, and the technician arrived right on time at 6:30pm. If you thought it was weird to do a pedicure in your office, let me tell you: It's not. 

That's especially true because my lovely coworker Tyler took my appointment for me at the last minute, when I realized that getting a pedi right before heading to the gym would be a bad idea. She said the service was awesome, though.

Pros: Priv lets you select your stylist/personal trainer/makeup artist, which is nice if you are a frequent flyer and have someone you like. The in-app messenger worked well. 

Cons: The app. In an ideal world, booking a spa service should be just as easy as actually undergoing it. This was not that.

Update: This article has been updated to include the fact that you can choose a specific time for your appointment on Glamsquad's app.